For some consultants, making Partner in a top firm is the ultimate career goal. The position comes with significant status and responsibility, along with an average starting compensation of close to $1,000,000 in the US. While partnership might take decades to attain in other professional services careers, in management consulting it’s a very real prospect. For top performers, it’s usually achievable in under ten years.
However, in reality only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain make it to Partner level. Many simply aren’t interested in becoming a Partner; they work in consulting for a few years to gain experience and then move on to other opportunities. For those who do want to become a Partner, there are some common factors that can frequently hold them back. In this article we explore why the vast majority of consultants ultimately don’t make Partner.
Why some consultants don’t want to be a Partner
Unlike in other professions, many people choose to leave management consulting after two to four years. This is sometimes the result of the long hours that consultants work and a desire for a more sustainable work-life balance. Other people find themselves drawn to new roles where they can spend more time ‘doing’ than advising. In many cases, however, people move on after a few years because of the attractive exit opportunities that exist for consultants who leave top firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain.
Consultants at top management consulting firms gain a vast amount of experience by working across a wide range of sectors and functions, solving some of the most pressing problems for the world’s biggest organizations. As a result, they leave the world of consulting with an abundance of highly desirable transferable skills, and are able to work in almost any function or industry. In addition, former consultants tend to start their new careers at a more senior level than their peers who come from other industries.
In the face of so many exciting opportunities, remaining in consulting may often seem like the least favorable of all a consultant’s options after a few years with a top firm.
Why some consultants who want to be a Partner don’t make it
Generally speaking, consultants make Partner when they have enough senior colleagues who are prepared to ‘bang the table’ for them to be elected. When this isn’t the case, it’s usually the result of one or more of the following issues:
1. The consultant hasn’t built a sufficient ‘platform’ for election to Partner
A consultant’s ‘platform’ is the culmination of the story they have built at the firm. It usually takes the form of:
- Success with clients: the individual has built strong relationships with clients who bring a steady flow of work to the firm. Senior executives in these organizations consistently ask to have the individual assigned to their projects.
- Growing the knowledge and capabilities of the firm: the individual has built a clear base of expertise in a particular sector or function that can be deployed on multiple projects.
- Contributing to the firm internally: whether through recruiting, training or setting up new events, the individual has made a positive impact on the inner workings of the firm.
Many consultants who don’t make Partner have run several successful projects but haven’t built the sufficient platform to win the support of more senior leaders of the firm. Their projects may have covered a miscellaneous range of industries or functions, for example, or simply may not have not carried a great deal of weight with the firm.
2. The consultant’s network isn’t strong enough to support election to Partner
To make Partner in consulting, it’s not enough for a consultant to be good at their job; they need lots of influential people within the firm to say this very loudly. The stronger and more senior an individual’s supporters, the better. This is where the ‘politics’ of making Partner come into play. Consultants must gain the right support from the right people in order to be in a good position for election.
3. The consultant’s performance isn’t strong enough to support election to Partner
At Partner level, the measure of a consultant’s performance ultimately comes down to their ability to lead a team, develop clients from a commercial standpoint and develop their own expertise. This means that they need to:
- keep their teams happy and receive positive feedback from team members
- be well regarded by clients and receive positive feedback from them
- run projects where the outcome is hugely beneficial to the client
A consultant who fails to meet these expectations is unlikely to make Partner. Under the up or out policy in place at top firms, they may even be asked to leave as an outcome of the performance review process.
If a career in management consulting sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry. And if you’re preparing to apply to a top consulting firm, the resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application in great shape.